A Luta Continua . . . (The Struggle Continues): Memoirs of a sometimes radical Christian
Resource Publications £18
WHO was it that called the Church of England a largely non-prophet-making corporation? The Methodists have done a little better, from John Wesley to Donald Soper and, today, their Joint Public Issues Team, part of a larger ecumenical enterprise, which can still raise the kind of prophetic voice that the C of E culled when it abolished the Board for Social Responsibility. This autobiography by the Methodist minister David Haslam records a lifetime of constructive resistance in the name of the God who wants to let his people go.
He has served the Church locally, including 13 years in multi-racial and severely impoverished Harlesden, and nationally, not least with the Churches’ Commission for Racial Justice, which grew out of the work that the British Council of Churches had pioneered, despite grave opposition, to take forward the World Council of Churches’ Programme to Combat Racism. Working for the BCC at the time, I remember animal blood being thrown over my car by ex-colonials angry that we were supporting the humanitarian work of liberation movements in places such as Zimbabwe.
Haslam’s journey began, as for many of us, in a global, ecumenical setting — for him, the Fourth WCC Assembly in Uppsala, where he went as a steward in 1968. It opened up a world where young Christians were taking seriously what the gospel says about freedom and justice, where the Church was confronting what stood in the way of God’s Kingdom, particularly in Latin America and South Africa. It has led him into campaigns against apartheid, racism, the power of transnational corporations, the causes of climate change, caste discrimination, and today, in retirement, the growing campaign for tax justice.
Certain themes emerge through all these issues: the opportunities, now lost, of ecumenical youth work; the holding together of the global and local, particularly when your congregation comes from many parts of the world; and something that Haslam keeps emphasising, the importance of theology, coming out of diverse church contexts, where we can find the direction and energy to engage with the world.
It would be possible to read this book nostalgically, regretting the loss of the global and ecumenical experiences and vision that fired up a 1960s generation to believe that God could change the world. Or you could read it as a judgement on uncontrolled capitalism, racism, and all the other evils that beset us now. But actually it’s a judgement on the Church, on you and me, the people who probably do know better, but now do little or nothing about what we see.
For that reason I don’t recommend it to Anglicans or, indeed, Methodists. It may be far too disturbing.
The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray’s Inn, and an assistant bishop in the diocese of Southwark.